I was standing behind the end zone as I did for most home games; the snow was coming down as it had been all game and there was this surreal feeling coming over me. We were in the fourth quarter of the 2001-2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Oakland Raiders at Foxboro Stadium. It had been snowing the entire game, giving it the feeling that we were in a snow globe and someone shook it up really good. For that reason, this game is also known as the “Snow Bowl” and it has become quite famous for the controversial “tuck” rule, but for me it was what launched me out of being a fan and into being a sports business person.
The day was pretty exciting on its own. The team had over-achieved under a young quarterback, Tom Brady; it was the final game at Foxboro Stadium (win or lose) and the crowd and conditions just made it all that more special. There was an electricity in the stadium that day. It’s hard to explain, but you could feel things changing.
I mentioned that I was behind the end zone. The reason was that my group was responsible for the in-game entertainment. I produced the games from the corner of the end zone, because being on the field provided a better feel for the crowd and the game; this ensured playing the right music or videos to entertain and energize the crowd. I say energize, but I really mean incite them to cheer as loudly as possible. By that time, I had hired a kid who worked for me at the radio station, Gary Grodecki. I had handed over my headset to him to call the game, but I still remained down on the field to throw in my two cents and Executive Produce the in-game entertainment.
Even though I was a “suit” every day of the week planning for the new stadium and all of our marketing initiatives, on game day I donned the same Patriots gear everyone else did and cheered as hard as everyone else, while making sure the entertainment was in sync with the game and what was happening on the field. The Snow Bowl was no different in that respect, and as I watched from my usual location, there came a point when I just knew we were going to win. I don’t know why, I could just feel the change; so much so, that when Brady lost the ball, all I could think was, “This isn’t right, this isn’t how it’s supposed to happen.” And it wasn’t, because times were, in fact, changing, not just for the team, but also for me. Lonnie Paxton’s snow angel in my end zone proved to be my last moment of pure Patriots Fandom.
The whirlwind began after that; off to Pittsburgh, planning trips, down to New Orleans, setting up offices, producing parties, meetings, selling trips, meetings, being a travel agent, policing abuses of the logo, managing thousands of requests, booking dinner reservations, entertaining guests, throwing parties, details, details, details and twenty hour days. And this was just the kick-off to the end of my truly enjoying the team as a fan. We won the Super Bowl (which was awesome, I’m not saying it wasn’t), but I was so exhausted, and my mind was so focused on capitalizing on our good fortune and making certain our marketing efforts were championship as well, that the feeling for me wasn’t as powerful as the victory against the Raiders.
Things just became magnified from there, and I was on a full-out mission to be so focused on the business side, to not miss any opportunity. We opened the new building, and I no longer watched a game the same way as I had in the old building. In fact, I never truly watched a game as I had done in the past. I spent my time entertaining partners and prospects, hopping from suite to suite and down into the club (I definitely walked miles around the stadium on game day, as did all employees). The fact is that I lost something I truly loved – being and acting like a fan of the New England Patriots. Again, it didn’t suck being the CMO of the team; I’m not saying that. It was just different. Everything had changed. In order for me and my group to be the very best at what we did (and there is no doubt we were), we had to operate differently. We had to re-make how we did business and how we viewed the team, the game, the building and our consumers.
I am not saying that the change was bad. In fact, that was when I really started becoming more precise and exceptional at marketing. A great deal of my philosophical approach was developed during this time. I became so much better at understanding the principles of marketing, and began implementing Relationship Architecture into my planning and thought process. I became a fan of the sports business and marketing, then a student, and then evolved into a teacher of its principles. I developed a precision on how to market the team, create marketing initiatives and generate revenue. It was the best thing that happened to my career, but I did lose something in the process.
I can’t go to games and watch them the same way. I am always looking at it from a business perspective as opposed to just enjoying the game as a fan. It’s coming on five years since I left the team, and I still have not gotten my fandom back to where it was, and I don’t know if I ever will. This is why I always say, “if sports is your pleasure and enjoyment, think twice before working in the industry. Your fandom could be a casualty.” I do believe what I have gained and experienced has been absolutely worth it, but it would be deceptive of me not to point out that your perspective will change, especially if you give 200% of yourself to being the best at what you do in the industry.
I do have a huge confession I need to get off my chest. I left in 2006, and the team went to the playoffs that season. Umm, I am not proud to say this, but I actually “secretly” rooted against them during the playoffs. I just couldn’t fathom the concept of them winning the first year I left. I’m sorry; I apologize, but that is just real. The good news is that during the undefeated season, I rooted as hard as anyone for the team to win, as I will do again this year. It just will not be the same as that glorious, snowy night in the end zone of Foxboro Stadium.